China says U.S. Navy plane won’t be allowed to fly out
BEIJING (AP) – China on Tuesday protested the resumption of U.S. surveillance flights and said it would refuse to let the United States fly out a crippled Navy spy plane. The Bush administration responded by stepping up its drive to get the plane back.
China has told Washington that ”it is impossible for the U.S. EP-3 plane to fly back” to the United States, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi told the official Xinhua news agency, without saying why Beijing opposes a flight in particular.
China has not ruled out allowing other means to remove the damaged EP-3E Aries II aircraft held on Hainan Island since it collided with a Chinese fighter jet. The United States has considered other options – such as dismantling the plane and shipping it out in pieces.
The matter could be properly settled if Washington takes a ”pragmatic and constructive attitude,” he said.
Sun also said that China would lodge ”serious” protests in Washington over the resumption of surveillance flights, adding that the United States should ”correct such wrong-doings.”
An unarmed Air Force RC-135 flew along China’s northeastern coast Monday, Pentagon officials said, the first surveillance mission since the April 1 collision between the Navy spy plane and the Chinese jet fighter.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the administration had ”only very recently” received China’s refusal of a flight out by the spy plane. The State Department would discuss the issue with the Chinese Foreign Ministry, he said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said no option should be ruled out that would ensure the quickest return of the reconnaissance plane.
”We are interested in the fastest return of the airplane,” Boucher said Tuesday. ”We think that is in China’s interest as well as ours.”
Rumsfeld said the U.S. assessment team that examined the Navy plane has ”come to some conclusions about what would be necessary to handle the aircraft. And I have provided that information to Secretary of State Powell.”
Rumsfeld said Powell would have further discussions with China, presumably through the foreign ministry.
China’s response came as relatives gathered to mourn victims of NATO’s bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia two years ago. The bombing sparked mass anti-American protests nationwide. China has never accepted U.S. claims that it was a mistake caused by faulty targeting.
”We condemn the U.S. atrocity,” shouted Guo Rongshun, uncle of Zhu Ying, a reporter who died in the embassy along with her husband, Xu Xinghu, and another woman.
The United States should ”move toward peace and stop infringing on human right issues and other countries’ affairs,” Guo told reporters at Zhu’s grave in western Beijing cemetery.
The EP-3E has sat on a military runway on Hainan since making an emergency landing following the collision, in which the Chinese plane and its pilot were lost. The 24 U.S. crew members were held by China for 11 days. American officials believe Chinese experts gleaned secrets from the plane, although the crew apparently managed to destroy the most sensitive information.
The U.S. technicians who inspected the plane last week said it could be air worthy, and Rumsfeld said Sunday the plane could be repaired sufficiently to fly it out.
”We’ll know later this week,” he said on NBC television’s ”Meet the Press.”
President Bush is expected to make a final decision on whether to press China for permission to repair the Navy aircraft and fly it out.
China wants to make it ”as painful as possible” for the United States to get its plane back, said Larry Wortzel, director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation and a former military attache to China.
”Obviously, for domestic reasons, they would prefer not to have a dignified flyaway when they lost their own aircraft,” he said.
If unable to fly the plane out, the United States would likely have to either remove its wings and tail sections and pack it into a gigantic C-5 Galaxy cargo plane or load it onto a large seagoing barge, Wortzel said.
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